Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun
October 12, 2008
I've stuck up for both Cameron and Flacco this year, maybe even more than I should have considering how extremely inconsistent they've both been. But as a pair, they're quickly running out of free passes. Let's be honest for a second, shall we? We all realize there are outside factors in play here. It would be silly to deny they exist. Cameron is coaching for his job this season. That's a fact. And Flacco is playing like he wants a contract extension. He admitted he wanted one in the off-season, and considering what he's accomplished, he's definitely underpaid. But it's time to stop trying to force the ball down the field so much -- at least until Lee Evans gets healthy -- because those low percentage throws are hurting the Ravens more than they're helping right now. Cameron is trying too hard to prove he's worthy of job security, and Flacco is happily along for the ride, trying to prove he's worthy of financial security. I seriously doubt it ever enters into their conscious minds, but subconsciously, how could it not?
Yes, the offensive line was dreadful against the Jaguars. And some of that has to fall at the feet of Cameron. It's his job to scheme the protections and call the plays, and not only did he not do a very good job on Monday, the tempo was atrocious, especially at the end of the game. (Even Harbaugh seemed furious that it was taking so long to get the play into Flacco. Why not have him call his own plays there anyway?) As a whole, though, it's most inexcusable that Ray Rice touched the ball only eight times on a night when Jaguars had a putrid offense of their own, but still gave it to Maurice Jones-Drew more than 30 times. And don't think it went unnoticed in the locker room.
"It baffles me that Ray Rice only had seven carries," Terrell Suggs said after the game. "This is a Pro Bowl running back we're talking about. They fed their horse [in Jones-Drew]. He toted the ball. So we need to feed our horse."
But run or pass, it's time to stop making excuse after excuse for Flacco this year. The fact that everything needs to be perfect for him to play great ought to tell us something. Some of those protection problems on Monday were caused by his slow reads and his bad footwork. True, his receivers were occasionally blanketed by defenders, but not always. Not nearly as much as you were led to believe by Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden. He had chances to drag the Ravens out of their offensive funk and he responded by making inaccurate throws even when he wasn't under duress. He had Anquan Boldin open by two steps over the middle of the field at one point and barely let Boldin get his hand on the ball. Sometimes I think Phil Simms and Jaworski fawn over him so much because they see a little of themselves in him, a quarterback who is more than a game manager, but less than a superstar. And like a little brother, they want to protect him.
Flacco's most dogged defenders tend to cherry-pick their evidence when they stick up for him. They like to tell you that even Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers struggle against pressure, so it's absurd that Flacco gets criticized for not handling blitzes. But the truth is, if you blitz Brady or Rodgers (or a number of good NFL quarterbacks), you're going to get burned more often than not. They'll recognize single coverage, or the hot read, and they'll destroy you. Sure, you might get to them occasionally, but not enough. Flacco doesn't burn teams enough to make them stop blitzing. And if you think it's unfair to compare him to quarterbacks who have been in the league for much longer than he has, you may have a point, but ultimately it's irrelevant. Those are the quarterbacks standing in the way. That's the standard, and right now, he's not meeting it often enough.
To be really good, to carry your team on nights when they're struggling, you have to make perfect throws in imperfect situations. I'm not saying he won't become that player, because he truly might. But ask yourself, really ask yourself, does Flacco do that enough right now?